Touring METRO's new rail lines: the Good, the Bad, and the UglyUPDATE 5/2/15: This got turned into a Sunday op-ed feature in the Chronicle.
Today I got to take a media preview tour of Metro's new Southeast/Purple and East/Green lines, which are opening to the public May 23rd. Metro brought a great team to give us the tour and answer our questions. Photos below for your enjoyment, but here are my thoughts categorized into the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
- Fun to ride with really well done stops, including nice art and signage, same as the existing lines. I used the Red line last week to attend the Astrodome 50th anniversary party (followed my Miller Outdoor Theater), and I have to say it was pretty awesome bypassing the traffic congestion of 25,000+ people attending that event.
- Pretty quick ride: from EaDo near the Dynamo stadium, it's 6 minutes to the current end of the East Line and 17 minutes to the Palm Center at the end of the Southeast line, although it should be noted we didn't stop at the intermediate stops.
- UH gets 3 stops which is really good access to most parts of the campus, including the new football stadium.
- The townhome and apartment boom in the East End is even more impressive than I was aware. I'm not sure how much of it is related to the new lines, but METRO is certainly happy to take some of the credit. But there's a problem...
- I think they spaced the first two stops on the Southeast/Purple line (EaDo and Leeland/Third Ward) too far apart to effectively serve the booming townhomes out there. The EaDo stop is right next to Dynamo/BBVA Compass Stadium and 59, and Leeland is almost next to 45S, with no stops in between. Google Maps says they're about 1.1 miles apart. Most of the people in those townhomes are going to have a serious walk to use the lines. I think Metro is going to need to look at building an intermediate stop. Update: Good news - Metro board member Christof Spieler has tweeted me that space for a future station has been left near Ennis and Walker.
- The East End/Green line won't truly be complete all the way to the Magnolia Park Transit center until the bridge over the freight rail tracks is finished in Spring 2016 (estimated). Right now it stops at Altic/Howard Hughes. I asked about the name of that stop - did you know the Howard Hughes was a big developer of the East End? I had no idea - pretty cool.
- Check out the bottom two photos below. See the problem? UH's new stadium is called TDECU, but the stop is called Robertson Stadium. They have the same problem with the Reliant/NRG stop, and may have it in the future with Minute Maid and BBVA Compass stadiums. I was told it's a Board level decision, and they're trying to figure out a policy with all of these frequent stadium renamings. It's expensive to rename a stop when you consider all the maps that have to change. I say they charge the company that bought the naming rights for the switchover. But another option would be to pick generic stop names that are likely to be stable: UH, Astros, Dynamo, and Texans/Rodeo Stadiums.
- Final cost numbers are $823 million for the 6.6 mile Southeast/Purple line and $587 million for the 3.3 mile East/Green line, for a total of $1.4 billion dollars (!). To work that out on a per-mile basis, it has to be noted that both lines overlap about a mile downtown, so really only 8.9 miles of new track was created (not 9.9). That works out to $158 million per mile, folks. Ouch. As nice as they are, that's a hard number to stomach. Did I mention this was the ugly section?
- Some friendly advice to Metro: given the numbers I just mentioned, I don't recommend continuing to promote the new Taco Bell next to UH as economic development spurred by the new line. The scale disparity invites unflattering comparisons and humor... ;-)